Maximizing the Prep Advantage
This started as a retention initiative,” says Kevin Gregorio, Director of Learning Services. Historically speaking, there had been a number of students arriving at the Prep who demonstrated the potential to do well, but either due to gaps in their education prior to arriving at the Prep, underdeveloped study skills, or learning differences, they met with academic struggles that had little to do with their cognitive ability. These obstacles often prevented them from making the most of their Prep experience, resulting, at times, in families choosing to leave the school. These were boys who belonged at the Prep, and something needed to be done to build strategies and skills for learning that would match their intellectual ability. This led to the arrival of Mr. Gregorio and the formal creation of the Prep Advantage Program.
Prior to Gregorio’s arrival in 2019, much of this support was provided through the work of the counseling department collaborating with the teachers and the administration. However, these efforts were only part of each person’s responsibilities, limiting the resources available. With the formalization of the Prep Advantage Program and a dedicated instructor, students were identified as candidates during the admissions process and became part of a summer enrichment program that would continue as an ongoing academic coaching and learning strategy curriculum for this cohort during the school year. The results were immediately noticeable in their outcomes and reported level of satisfaction in their Prep experience, but in the process, more was revealed: what about those students who arrive at the Prep with no indicators for proactive intervention but struggle in the transition? Or those who pursue a course that may challenge them but find they need some extra help? Prep Advantage paved the way for a process to help address these issues, a one-person department has become a team of four, and the Office of Learning Services was created.
This department, led by Gregorio and including the Prep Advantage and the Academic Support Programs, collaborates with teachers, counselors, and administrators on professional development for effective instructional methods from which all students benefit.
Beginning in the summer prior to freshman year, Prep Advantage is a four-year, preventative academic skills program whose goal is to empower young men who have drive and work ethic to build strategies to overcome obstacles to learning so they can rise to the challenges they may encounter during their Prep experience and thrive in all the amazing components that make up a Prep education. Students in the program take a study skills and executive functioning course as part of Freshman Advantage. There, students benefit not only from explicit instruction but from regular meetings and check-ins with various Learning Services members acting in the capacity of academic advisors and instructors. Beyond the freshman year, students in Prep Advantage continue to meet with the Learning Services Team, once or twice a week in a group setting as well as additional one-on-one meetings as needed.
While the Prep emphasizes a proactive approach to Learning Services, there are times when additional academic support is needed. The Learning Services Team, stationed in the second floor of the Howley Learning Commons, is giving students the tools to create their own success thus fulfilling their academically ambitious characteristics.Their approach formalizes the school’s reactive services, supporting students in academic trouble as well as those who aren’t achieving as well as they would like. “It is everything from a student who is failing a class to a student with straight As but wants to be more efficient,” Gregorio says. As a result, this team regularly reviews students’ grades and works closely with their guidance counselors to ensure our students are being supported en route to their success. Additionally they provide structures like the Homework Club, which meets daily after school in the Howley Learning Commons. This helps students learn the most effective ways to organize their assignments and allows them to begin their work in a focused and supportive environment. In addition to Learning Services personnel, students have access to National Honor Society Peer Tutors for support in specific disciplines.
“We love the Prep experience, and think it is invaluable,” Gregorio says. “Our goal is to help them experience the full Prep, to help them overcome any obstacles in their way academically because we realize it is life changing.”
For anyone who wonders if this leads to a watered down experience, Gregorio assures them that is not the case. “We do it in the Prep way,” he says. “We hold the students accountable for their work at a high standard. Our job is to give them the tools they need to be successful. For some, that is time management; for others, that may be study skills or note taking.”
And the successes have already been numerous and rewarding. “I can think of so many students we work with who are having full Prep experiences: doing well academically, being active in clubs and activities, participating in the life of the school,” Gregorio says. “The parents appreciate that the school sees the potential in their son and have been so supportive.”
As the Universal Apostolic Preferences charge us to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future, St. Joseph’s Prep Learning Services Team is poised to walk with more students toward a successful Prep experience, striving towards the Grad at Grad by learning, growing, and achieving their full potential.